by Grace Bridges
For a number of years now, I have dreamed of making a SpecFicNZ anthology showcase. Although I’ve been on the Core committee for almost 6 years, and president for most of those, the time was not yet right to launch the project – so I honed my publishing skills and worked on other anthologies such as Aquasynthesis, Avenir Eclectia, and Alter Ego as well as editing dozens of novels in the intervening years.
Last year, when we discussed the idea, the Core was enthusiastic and committed to standing behind our members in this new, shared use of our assigned Publishing Grant fund. And so began the task of getting people into place. An early reshuffle meant that I was unexpectedly but not unwillingly handed the project management as a whole. Lee Murray stood ready, an ever-professional and reliable backup on the editing team; and Paul Mannering volunteered to herd the cats i.e. administrate the submissions and handle the financial side. It only remained to choose a mentee editor from the applicants, and for this Aaron Compton got on board.
Somewhere around here was when we chose the title together as a group, running it by some kaumātua to make sure the use of the phrase was appropriate. Originally, we came up with “speaking fire” as a metaphor for speculative fiction; we then learned that the concept of home fire is strong in Māori culture, leading to a more robust meaning than we had imagined. To speak of where we come from; to keep the fire lit. Ahi Kā.
It was extremely exciting to announce the project and see members send in their stories. After consideration, we then allowed the Core and editing team to contribute stories without pay, to ensure impartiality, but also to draw in a balanced selection of work from all of our members without excluding any who are active in the community. Most of the unpaid works were reprints, donated gladly for the chance to participate.
After submissions closed, Lee, Aaron and I put our heads down and read madly, coming to various opinions on the stories, poems and artwork. We each had our particular favourites (nope, not telling!) and this gave extra weight in the final decisions as well. Once the list was set, Paul got to send out notifications and contracts while I juggled the story order for the best flow from beginning to end.
With the stories set into place, the manuscript built from its component parts, it was time to edit. The three of us each ran through it during December, then I went back and combed it again in January before we returned the edited stories to the authors for approval and discussion. While they worked on their parts, I experimented with formatting to find the best look for the interior, and set up the pages, tweaking the stories one by one as the authors returned their feedback. There were a lot of sleepless nights during this time – but I promise, it’s not insomnia. Just some kind of madness, a fire burning, perhaps a home fire. Ahi Kā.
Finally we had our Advance Review Copy, which we sent to a few strategic readers; meanwhile, after a few days’ break, it was head down again for the proofreading (many thanks also to Celine Murray for a fresh set of eyes!) – very necessary, as we caught and fixed a number of potentially embarrassing typos even after so many edits.
A last liaison with our fabulous cover artist Eve Doyle to add Lee’s lovely back cover text and create the custom spine width matching the page count, and it was off to the printers – a short run from my local providers at BookPrint, and uploading to CreateSpace and Kindle. It was a challenge to pick only five keywords for a book so very diverse, but soon that too was done. Design some postcards along the way, and set up a download page for reviewers – why not?
When the local print run was ready, Lee and I split the task of sending out the contributor copies just before she took off to Stokercon to wave some copies around and put them in the hands of those who could best use them.
Finished? Not quite! At this point appeared News Ninja Eileen Mueller with her track record for media releases and press contacts, and together we constructed the documentation to be sent out to newspapers, magazines, radio, distributors, and libraries. Laboriously, Eileen inducted me into the mysteries of Amazon advertising and we began a campaign that continues to this day (Hmm, I wonder how that’s going – whoops, I better check it!).
Orders began to flutter in from bookstores, libraries, and even schools, distributors added us to their catalogues, and media representatives requested review copies. Articles appeared in several local newspapers, headlined in each case by the contributors from that area. Then Lee kicked off the blog series here at SpecFicNZ, and it’s been awesome to read the inside stories behind the creations. And now you’ve seen a bit behind the scenes of the overall project.
Work continues on marketing and fulfilling orders; in many ways it will never stop now that it’s begun. But we’ve launched our book-baby into the world with the stringent quality checks that are so important in indie publishing. I would like to thank all of the team and the contributors for their hard work – I believe we have a product we can truly be proud of, and we couldn’t have done it without you.
You are the home fires we speak of. You are Ahi Kā.